BOUNCE BACK BOWL

One season after going 15-1 and reaching the Super Bowl the Panthers are looking to salvage something from the 2016 campaign. The Saints unfortunately followed a familiar script of losing the game following the battle back to .500.

New Orleans (4-5) enters the game coming off of a heartbreaking 25-23 loss to Denver at home. QB Drew Brees hit WR Brandin Cooks on a 32-yard TD pass to tie it up at 23 with 1:22 left in the game. The PAT, however, was blocked and returned for the two-point difference.

Carolina (3-6) enters the game having suffered some heartbreak as they saw a 17-0 halftime lead go away thanks to 20 unanswered points in a 20-17 Chiefs win.  QB Cam Newton threw a pair of TDs in the game, one to a Panther the other Chief Eric Berry who ran it back 42 yards for a score.

The Saints enter the game Thursday having won three straight contests held on Thursday night and have an overall 6-4 record all-time on Thursday. Saints are 20-23 all time against Carolina with the Saints winning the matchup earlier this season 41-38.

New Orleans as of Thursday is a 3.5-point underdog with the over/under being 52.5.

STORYLINES

The storyline this week is about mental strength for both teams and which bunch has the most.

New Orleans will have to find a way to erase the disappointment of Sunday’s loss. Yes, losing on a blocked PAT is a new way to feel heartache yet the four turnovers were the real reason the Saints did not make it five of six wins. It was very reminiscent of the Kansas City loss where 10 penalties and Brees' pick-six doomed the team in a six point loss. New Orleans had a 17-10 lead before WR Michael Thomas was stripped for the second time in the game. They followed the Broncos scoring drive with a three and out before Denver tied it.

In or out of bounds will be forever debated but the truth is the Saints hurt themselves several times in that game. Can the team let that pain and disappointment go and refocus on a short week? They will need to if they are to have any shot at winning.

Carolina perhaps was more worried about the “Dab” brought back by QB Cam Newton on his celebrations because they failed to score in the second half. It’s been a frustrating season for the Panthers as they don’t seem to have that same focus that allowed them to lose just one game last season. You can bet though after blowing a 17-point lead at home the Panthers will look to bounce back and let’s be honest, the last few games against the Saints it’s been a dogfight until the final play of the game.

The Saints are playing better football though and frankly the team’s last two losses, to the Chiefs and Panthers, should have been if at the very least could have been wins. The Saints are only a game back of the final spot in the playoff picture with seven games remaining so needless to say there is a ton to play for which is why a win on a short week would be huge.

THE ENEMY

Carolina faced the Saints back in October and lost 41-38 in a thriller and the loss dropped them to 1-5. They went on to win two straight 30-20 against the Cardinals and beat the Rams in L.A. 13-10.

The Panthers led by 17 at halftime a week ago and seemed headed to their third straight win before collapsing in the second half. QB Cam Newton went 23 of 38 for 261 yards throwing a TD and a pick. Newton was sacked twice bringing his total for this season up to 23 times. Saints QB Drew Brees by comparison has been sacked 13 times.

BY THE NUMBERS

The Saints offense comes into the game ranked 1st overall in total offense averaging 427.7 yards a game. New Orleans is 1st in passing averaging 322.7 yards per game and 16th in rushing at 105.0 yards per game. Carolina is the 12th ranked offense with 366.7 yards per game. The Panthers are 15th in passing with 252.8 yards a game and 11th in rushing with 113.9 yards on the ground.

Defensively the Saints are 29th in total defense giving up 400.6 yards a game, 32nd in pass defense giving up 292.7 and 19th in yards allowed on the ground at 107.9. Carolina is 15th in yards allowed giving up 351.6 yards per game. The Panthers are 24th in passing defense giving up 272.6 and 2nd in rush defense allowing 79.0 yards per game.

ESPN’s Week 11 power rankings have the Saints at 20 the same as of a week ago. ESPN says FPI currently gives the Saints a 24 percent chance of making the playoffs. Carolina also stays at the spot they were a week ago at 24.

Cam Newton has been blitzed on 44 percent of dropbacks this season posting a career-low 55 total QBR against the blitz.

The Saints have been penalized 54 times for 514 yards. Carolina has been flagged 60 times for 509 yards.

HOW THE SOUTH IS WON

Atlanta            6-4      vs        Bye Week

Tampa Bay     4-5      @         Kansas City                7-2      -7.5

New Orleans 4-5      @         Carolina                      3-6      -3.5

Carolina          3-6      vs        New Orleans              4-5      +3.5

PLAYER(S) THAT NEEDS TO HAVE A GOOD GAME ON OFFENSE

RB Tim Hightower and or Mark Ingram. Carolina is the second best team in stopping the run so I’m not asking for a 200-yard game here on the ground but the Panthers were torched by Brees for 465 yards and four touchdowns. I would assume adjustments will be made to not let that happen again. Add the short week and a Saints defense that saw 80 plus snaps and spent almost 40 minutes on the field likely don’t have the freshest legs. Sustaining some drives and eating some clock would help the black and gold defense.

PLAYER(S) THAT NEEDS TO HAVE A GOOD GAME ON DEFENSE

Saints D-Line. Last month the Saints defense hit Cam Newtown 13 times and harassed him the whole game and barely won. Denver’s QB was sacked six times and the Saints lost. Unfortunately for this defense to have any kind of success they must basically play out of their minds and still hold on for dear life. Cam Newton extends plays, and creates big plays with his legs so he will be a challenge. Also of note, since the last meeting he has met with Commissioner Roger Goodell about being hit in ways he feels should draw flags. It is something to keep in mind heading into the game as you don’t want a 15-yarder costing you the game.

X FACTORS

WR Michael Thomas. The rookie had the ball knocked out of his hands twice for fumble recoveries and couldn’t secure one pass that resulted in an interception. Thomas has been a playmaker for this team and unfortunately his bad day hurt the team badly. I have no doubt he will respond but you better believe every Panthers defender will be punching at that ball come game time.

S Kenny Vaccaro. It likely is the last game for the Saints safety as he could begin serving a four game suspension following the game. Vaccaro last week was a huge part of the defense’s success.

TE Colby Fleener. Fleener in the first meeting had sox catches for 74 yards and a touchdown in what was easily his most productive game of the season. I feel he will have the same chance to have a good game. Again, the Panthers will make adjustments to keep the big play from happening this go around and so I think the focus will be on the WRs allowing him man to man coverage.

HOW I SEE IT

The Saints are improving. Their last two losses could have been wins. I know they didn’t and at the end of the day you need to make the plays that secure the wins. The defense is playing better, perhaps not in the yardage given up but they are creating turnovers, pressuring the quarterback and holding teams to field goals instead of touchdowns.

The Panthers have won two of three since the last meeting I get that, but they seem fragile to me. Blowing a 17-point lead at home? The offense didn’t score and has been inconsistent all season. Newtown seems more concerned about flags that should be called and “dabbing” and could become frustrated if the Saints jump out to a lead.

New Orleans is in the pack. Playoffs aren’t a delusional idea anymore but that could go away with a pair of losses in span of five days. I think the offense has enough weapons and the defense will continue to play well.

Saints win 24-17.